I am sitting with the uncorrected galley proof for Combat Camera in hand. Well, not literally. The proof copy is on the desk beside my keyboard. But the point is, I have it. Which is pretty cool, as it is the first manifestation of the novel as a concrete, physical object—which is to say, the first concrete, physical evidence that I did not, in fact, waste seven years of my spare time.
And the cooler thing is that now I can actually read my book as a book, instead of on a screen, or as an unruly stack of loose sheets. I can actually sit down and figure out which parts I want to read at, you know, readings, and stuff like that.
It wasn’t until Rebecca Rosenblum said I was being “impressively calm” that it occurred to me that I’m supposed to be freaking out. Apparently (and as an editor, she’d know), this is when I’m supposed to lose my mind. But I’m not.
Now, I do have (as no one at Biblioasis, my publisher, has yet discovered) a highly developed ability to lose my mind. And I do have a prickly attitude towards copy editing, which has in the past led to my sending notes, which, in edited form, looked like this:
Why in the name of blue thundering Jesus Smurf do you keep moving my commas? Is there any reason? Can you not perceive that those sentences have a rhythm, a rhythm that you, with your tin ear and newspaperman’s sensibility, are fucking up in detail? I swear, if you move one more comma without just cause, I will cut it out, photocopy it to a million times its size, fly to British Columbia, and shove it up your ass, paper cuts be damned. Kindly stop moving my commas around. I put them there for a reason.
So, what I’m getting at is, I think I already do a certain amount of self-editing.
It’s not that I hate copy editors; it’s just that they come in several flavours. There are good ones, and merely competent ones. To understand what’s meant by competent, picture a merely competent copy-editor working with Mr. T:
Mr. T: I pity da foo who moves my comma!
Ed: “I pity the fool.”
Mr. T: Foo! Don’t you be messin’ with my aesthetic!
[Sound of breaking limbs.]
Ed: I need anaesthetic.
Mr. T: Foo! You got no aesthetic.
Which is to say, there’s correct language, and then there’s the right language.
I don’t really care about things like spelling, but grammar … the grammar is the language, and the language is the story. You can’t arbitrarily mess with these things.
So why am I so calm?
Maybe because I trust that I won’t encounter a copy-editor with a tin ear and a newspaperman’s sensibility.
Maybe because I’ve done so much magazine writing, in which you send in the manuscript and lose all control of it, so you learn to trust good editing and endure the rest while plotting devious revenge.
Maybe because I’m acutely aware that you can turn a good piece of writing into garbage by messing around with it too much.
Maybe because I’ve been over this thing, and over this thing, and over this thing, and over this thing, and over this thing….
At some point, you know that the sentences have to be right. And anything bigger than sentences … well, at this point, it’s too late anyway. You’re not shoring up structural deficiencies at this late date.
Just don’t look for impressive calm on the release date. I’ll be in the bathroom, throwing up.